FedEx St. Jude Classic: Outsiders worth considering once again, says The Punter

Will Wilcox - The Punter's sole selection in Memphis
Will Wilcox - The Punter's sole selection in Memphis

It's been hard to find the winners on the PGA Tour in recent weeks with the last two going off at huge prices and our man thinks we might just see another surprise here. Read Steve's comprehensive preview here...


“Will Wilcox appears to have all the right attributes for TPC Southwind. He currently ranks 4th for GIR, 6th for Par 3 Performance and 16th for scrambling on the PGA Tour and following a promising enough tied 22nd at the Byron Nelson Championship last time out, I thought he was worth chancing at a triple-figure price.”

Tournament History

In existence since 1958 and first known as the Memphis Open, the FedEx St. Jude Classic immediately precedes the US Open again this year for the eighth year in-a-row. Originally staged at the Colonial Country Club in Memphis, the event has been staged at TPC Southwind since 1989.


Venue

TPC Southwind, Memphis, Tennessee


Course Details

Par 70 -7,244 yards
Stroke Index in 2014 - 70.72

Designed by Ron Prichard, in consultation with Fuzzy Zoeller and Hubert Green, and opened in 1988, TPC Southwind has always been a fairly stern test but it was made even tougher back in 2004 when 125 additional trees were planted, 15 new bunkers were added (taking the total up to 96), the par 5 5th was converted to a par four (reducing the par to 70), fairways were re-contoured and narrowed and over 200 yards were added. The smaller than average greens were also changed from bentgrass to Bermuda. Water is in play on 10 holes at Southwind and nine holes are dog-legs.

With the US Open fast approaching, TPC Southwind makes for an ideal prep run with its small high greens which provide plenty of scrambling practice ahead of next week's major.


Useful Sites
Event Site

Course Site
Tee Times
Weather Forecast
Alternative Weather Forecast


TV Coverage

Live on Sky Sports all four days, starting on Thursday.


Last Five Winners

2014 - Ben Crane -10
2013 - Harris English -12
2012 - Dustin Johnson -9
2011 - Harrison Frazar -13 (playoff)
2010 - Lee Westwood -10 (playoff)


What will it take to win the FedEx St. Jude Classic?

Nobody hit it further than Robert Garrigus in 2010, when he threw the event away at the 72nd hole before losing in a playoff, and Harrison Frazar topped the Driving Distance stats when he won 12 months later but they were the exceptions and not the norm.

The last two winners, Ben Crane and Harris English, ranked in the 60s for DD and only one of last year's top-10, Carl Pettersson, ranked inside the top-30. Length isn't an advantage here, and given the last five winners have ranked 31st, 43rd, 19th, 49th and 43rd for Driving Accuracy, being arrow-straight off the tee isn't an essential prerequisite either.

After a number of rain delays last year, Crane, who led from start to finish, clung on to win by a stroke, thanks to some quite brilliant scrambling and putting. He ranked 47th for Greens In Regulation and I've gone as far back as 1996 and that's the worst any winner has ranked for finding the greens. The four winners before him all ranked inside the top 10 for GIR indicating that TPC Southwind is an accurate ball striker's course.

Crane ranked 2nd for Scrambling 12 months ago and he was the sixth winner to rank inside the top seven for the stat in the last decade.

And finally, how you play the short holes looks important too - in each of the last seven years, someone ranking inside the top five for Par 3 Performance, has either won or finished 2nd. Last year's runner-up, Troy Merritt, played the short holes in five-under-par - a feat only equaled by James Hahn, who finished tied for 6th.


Is There an Angle In?

First-timers and players with very little course form appear to fare well. The out of form, Crane, who went off at around 280.0279/1, had plenty of reasonable course form in the book but his sixth placed finish here in 2003 was the best previous course form that any of last year's top-10 had mustered prior to last year's renewal.

Runner-up Troy Merritt, a 1000.0 shot before the off, had played the course just once, in 2009, but had missed the cut and it was the same story for Matt Every, who finished tied for third, and both Andrew Svoboda and James Hahn. Brian Harmon, who along with Svoboda and Hahn, had tied for sixth, had played here twice previously and not made the weekend and Ian Poulter's previous figures read MC-51. It seems course form isn't essential and having not played here at all often proves to be a plus.

The 2013 winner, Harris English, was playing in the event for the first time, the 2012 winner, Dustin Johnson, had never played here before either and neither had 2011 champ, Lee Westwood, who beat another first-timer, Robert Karlsson, in a playoff.

There are numerous examples of other really good debuts too - Matt Kuchar (5th in 2002), Freddie Jacobson (3rd in 2003), Zach Johnson (5th in 2006), Trevor Immelman (runner-up in 2008) and Graeme McDowell (7th in 2009), to name but a few.

The OCL Classic in Mexico correlates quite well with the St Jude Classic. English, went on to win the Mexican event after taking this two years ago, and Robert Karlsson who has finished runner-up here twice, traded a heavy odds-on before a late collapse let in English in Mexico.

Brian Gay has won both this event and the OCL Classic, Robert Allenby has lost a playoff at both and the likes of Justin Leonard, David Toms, Rory Sabbatini, Charles Howell II, and even a few more obscure players that we rarely see feature, like Johnson Wagner, Heath Slocum, Dicky Pride, Bob Estes and Justin Hicks, have shown-up well at both venues.

And now that Crane has won both this and the McGladrey Classic and Webb Simpson has performed well at both, it might be worth a look at past results there also.


Is There an Identikit Winner?

Outsiders have a fine record. In addition to Crane 12 months ago, the likes of Harrison Frazar, Woody Austin, Jeff Maggert, Len Mattiace, Bob Estes, Notah Begay, Ted Tryba and Dicky Pride have all left punters scratching their heads over the last 20 years. After wins for huge outsiders, Steven Bowditch and David Lingmerth, are we set for a hat-trick of unfathomable winners? And I'd sway towards the more experienced players too.

Going all the way back to 1989, only four winners in their 20s have won here (Dicky Pride in 1994, Notah Begay, in 2000, Dustin Johnson in 2012 and English in 2013), and in that period, six winners have been in their 40s. Crane was 38 when winning last year and Frazar was only days away from his 40th birthday three years ago. Experience counts for plenty at TPC Southwind.


This Isn't Just Warm-up for the US Open

It's tempting to think the star names are here just to prepare for next week's event at Chambers Bay but Dustin Johnson won here three years ago when Rory McIlroy, who led at halfway, probably should have done, and Phil Mickelson came very close to winning in 2013.


In-Play Tactics

Getting with the early pace-setters anywhere isn't usually a wise move. They're often under-priced and very few are able to win but don't be afraid to back the first round leader in Memphis - Ben Crane was the eighth to win since 1996 and one other winner, David Toms in 2004, was second after round one before leading all the way thereafter.

Crane was the sixth wire-to-wire winner since 1996 and he was the first winner on the PGA Tour to fail to record a birdie in round four since Justin Leonard had won here in 2005, suggesting that this really is somewhere that you can start fast and cling on.

Keep your eye on the US Open market while this event is in progress - anyone making a move up the leaderboard here will soon be popular for next week's major. For example, I took 85.084/1 about Webb Simpson for last year's US Open during this event and he went off at 50.049/1.


Market Leaders

The 2012 winner, Dustin Johnson, is at the top of many people's lists for next week's US Open and I can see why. He looks to have the right game for the venue and a first major looks like the next logical step in his career and there's a good chance he'll saunter up to Chambers Bay with yet another title to his name after another victory here.

I fancied he might find a bit too much trouble off the tee last week at Muirfield Village and that's exactly what happened but he played well to finish tied for 13th, thanks mainly to a hot week with the putter, and I can see him contending here. Whether he's a decent price given how many outsiders win here is quite a different matter though and I'm more than happy to let him go un-backed before the off.

Phil Mickelson likes to play the week before a major and he's won the week before a major on numerous occasions but he was pretty poor last week at the Memorial so doesn't represent any value at less than 20.019/1, even though he finished 11th last year and was runner-up 12 months earlier.

After finishing 10th and 6th in each of the last two renewals and 13th at the Players and 11th at the Memorial in his last two starts, Billy Horschel was always going to be popular here but under 20.019/1 is far too short for my liking and he too is readily dismissed, And so too are the next two in the betting - Ryan Palmer and Webb Simpson.

Palmer finished 3rd in 2012, 4th in 2014 and 32nd last year, so he has the course form to boast, and his 10th at the AT&T Byron Nelson Classic last time out was a decent enough effort but he hasn't won in over five years and every time he's had a chance of late he's looked far too shaky to change that.

Simpson chased home Rory McIlroy at the Wells Fargo last time out and was 3rd here 12 months ago so he's another that ticks both course and current form boxes but he looks very short to me at round 20/1.


Selections

I was quite keen on Robert Streb here at over 50.049/1 but he's pulled out now for some reason and I thought I may get triple-figure prices about both Jason Bohn and Jerry Kelly but they're too short to play at less than that. I've got a number of outsiders that I have my eye on and if I get matched at the prices I want I'll update and re-tweet the preview again but for now I've backed just one - Will Wilcox.

The 29-year-old Web.com graduate, who's from neighbouring Alabama, finished 19th here on debut 12 months ago and I can see why - he appears to have all the right attributes for TPC Southwind. He currently ranks 4th for GIR, 6th for Par 3 Performance and 16th for scrambling on the PGA Tour and following a promising enough tied 22nd at the Byron Nelson Championship last time out, I thought he was worth chancing at a triple-figure price.


Update - 09:10 9-6-2015

I know the preview only went up late last night but I've already added two more picks - I've got Brian Harman onside now at 90.089/1 and Mark Wilson at 550.0549/1.

Harman has some very decent recent form in the book with an 8th at the Players Championship - where he topped the scrambling stats and ranked 6th for GIR - and 10th at the Crowne Plaza Invitational - where he ranked 2nd for GIR. As recently as April he ranked 8th for putting at The Heritage, so it's all there waiting to click and where better for that to happen than on a course that really suits his game, as he showed last year when he finished 6th.

Having won the OCL Classic and the Hawaii Open, five-time PGA Tour winner, Mark Wilson, also has the game for TPC Southwind. He's been out of form of late but four rounds of 71 at the Wells Fargo in his penultimate start show he's not woefully out of form. His best finish here from four starts is only 18th, in 2013, but I'm not unduly concerned about that. As mentioned above, previous course form hasn't been vital and I thought his profile not dissimilar to last year's winner, Ben Crane.

Update - 10:00 11-6-2015

I've added just one more before the off - Johnson Wagner. I did want to back Stewart Cink as well but I was clearly a fraction too greedy. There was plenty available at 270.0269/1 on Monday so I assumed I'd get on easily enough at 280.0279/1 but I only matched to get £2 matched! He's now 100 points shorter so I've left him out.

Updated Selections

Brian Harman @ 90.089/1
Will Wilcox @ 120.0119/1
Johnson Wagner @ 320.0319/1
Mark Wilson @ 550.0549/1


I'll be back sometime tomorrow with my Lyoness Open preview.


*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter


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